From April to October of this year, guests approaching the west front of the Mansion from the Mansion circle had the unique opportunity to see behind the curtain of one of Mount Vernon's key architectural features, the Mansion’s rusticated siding, the means by which George Washington tricked the eye by using paint and sand over wood siding cut to look like more expensive stone blocks.
During the 2019 restoration project, up to 28 modern layers of paint and sand were removed, and all architectural elements were assessed and conserved. These elements included the siding, windows, window and door trim, and shutters. Visitors had a rare and thrilling opportunity to see the Mansion’s original wood siding emerging from underneath generations of paint. The architectural team was able to determine that 83% of this side of the Mansion exterior was original. By removing the previous layers of paint, it was possible to make repairs to the original structure and address moisture issues that were causing deterioration including rusting nails.
The architectural preservation team systematically removed the window sashes, working with extreme care to disturb as little of the original material as possible. The team addressed loose joints, conserved the panes of glass, and installed new glazing to form a weather-tight seal.
To complete the exterior restoration, the team sourced sand from the same deposit of sandstone that Washington used. We know much about how Washington created the exterior color, and the process he directed for sand finishing, through his correspondence with several estate managers as well as US Capitol architect William Thornton. The finish you can see today was applied using the very same methods Washington described to Thornton in October 1799: “Sanding, is designed to answer two purposes—durability, & representation of Stone; for the latter purpose, and in my opinion a desirable one; it is the last operation, by dashing, as long as any will stick, the Sand upon a coat of thick paint. This is the mode I pursued with the painting at this place, & wish to have pursued at my houses in the City.”
The restoration of the west front of the Mansion was generously supported by Catherine M. and Frederick H. Waddell as well as the Neighborhood Friends Birthnight Supper and Ball and other generous donors.
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